OKLAHOMA CITY – The Oklahoma City Thunder’s practice ended Saturday with an entertaining, brick-filled 3-point competition between Kendrick Perkins(notes) and fellow center B.J. Mullens. Thunder coach Scottie Brooks was asked why he didn’t join in.
“I’m too cocky,” Brooks said.
He then drove home in his Prius.
Other than that quip, Brooks didn’t have much of a response to his former boss, Denver Nuggets coach George Karl, calling him “pretty cocky” and accusing the Thunder of having an inflated opinion of themselves.
“He’s confident and his team is confident,” Karl told reporters in Denver recently. “At times when you get beat by him, you think they might be too cocky.”
The Thunder play host to Karl and the Nuggets on Sunday for Game 1 of their first-round Western Conference series. The Thunder are 3-1 against Denver this season. Not surprisingly, they consider Karl’s comments gamesmanship.
“Denver can do the things that they do,” said Brooks, who coached under Karl in Denver from 2003-06. “That’s on them, that’s on George, that’s on their staff. I focus on our team, our guys and I believe in what we do.”
That’s not to say the Thunder didn’t notice Karl’s comments.
“That’s just crazy,” Perkins said. “Coach Brooks is one of the most humble guys I’ve been around, seriously. We can’t get caught up in that.”
Karl’s ire was born from the Thunder’s 91-84 win in Denver on April 5. Karl said that ball boys and player agents said the Thunder were dismissive of the Nuggets in the locker room after the game.
Nuggets guard Raymond Felton(notes) told reporters the Nuggets “owe” the Thunder after they have been doing “a little bit of trash talking.” Privately, the Thunder have scoffed at Karl’s claim, saying they reacted to the victory in Denver no different than any other this season and that the locker room was quiet.
“We know what they were saying, we know,” Karl said. “I’m not going to bring it to public, but we know. It gets back to us.”
Despite being young, Oklahoma City has a reputation for handling wins and losses with the same even temperament – and for good reason. The Thunder are just two years removed from winning only 23 games and they have yet to win a playoff series since moving to Oklahoma.
A year ago, it was Los Angeles Lakers coach Phil Jackson who tweaked the Thunder before their first-round series when he said Durant received special treatment from the league’s officials. While Durant was bothered by Jackson’s words last year, the Thunder don’t appear to fazed by Karl’s comments.
“There is a fine line between confidence and cocky,” Durant said. “One thing we can’t be is cocky. We won a few games. We beat some good teams. But come playoffs, that’s out the door. You can’t expect for us to say, ‘Oh, we are going to win games.’
“People say we are going to win, but we have to come out there and really do it. We have that mindset. We’re not worried about what other people say. If we have that mindset, we’ll be straight.”
Durant said the Thunder have to earn their respect in the postseason. He refused to speculate when asked if the Thunder could reach the NBA Finals.
“I don’t want to say that,” Durant said. “That puts some big expectations on us. I’m going to keep saying we’re going to take it one game at a time and see where it takes us. If it’s in God’s will that we make it to the Finals, than we make it to the Finals. As of right now, we’re just playing, taking it a day at a time and trying to get better.”
Perkins is the Thunder player who could be most considered cocky because, Durant said, he “gets under people’s skin” with his physical play. Perkins, who has also done his share of barking, said he has told teammates to focus on themselves and not the Nuggets.
“The funny thing about it,” Perkins said, “is Coach Brooks and Coach Karl are good friends.”